There are two simple ways to gauge a car’s success: listen to the critics or listen to market analysts. The former (us bunch of writers, enthusiast, and owners) will explain how a car is good or bad, while the latter will tell you how the market has reacted to the cars. The former is qualitative while the latter is all about the numbers. In ideal world/market, both need to support each other, but India isn’t an ideal market. Far from it, actually, the cars that lead the segments are more often than not, the runner ups and not the absolutely best products. We look at a few examples.
Entry level hatchback
Current market leader: Maruti Alto 800 and Alto K10
Worthy contender: Renault Kwid
First time buyers want to play it safe, and hence they choose the brand that’s perceived to offer the most hassle free ownership experience. And that’s where Maruti Suzuki excels. As products, both the Alto 800 and the Alto K10 make for decent buys. Both are relatively simple to own and run, while the former is a cost effective proposition, the latter adds a bit of oomph to the package.
Are they the best out there? Frankly speaking, they aren’t. Look at the recently launched Renault Kwid, and it seems to offer more than the Alto 800. Positioned in the same price bracket, the Kwid has better styling and a longer feature list (on the higher variants, of course).
Current market leader: Maruti Suzuki Swift
Worthy contender: Ford Figo
The Swift has been around for a decade now, underwent one generation change, and a number of updates. It’s good to drive and doesn’t disappoint as a package. But the competition is surely stronger than ever, and while it continues to top the sales charts, it’s not the best option around, especially now. On one end of the spectrum is the Ford Figo, which is priced lower than the Swift, and offers slightly more features, while it’s the Hyundai i20 on the other end. It continues to humble the Swift with its premium styling, fit and finish, and features list (especially on top spec trims). And out of nowhere has Maruti responded by introducing the Baleno – a premium hatchback that’s positioned on top of the Swift, but probably makes more sense than any other MSIL product on sale.
Market leader: Maruti Suzuki Swift Dzire
Worthy contenders: Ford Figo Aspire, Tata Bolt
Every month Maruti sells about 20,000 units of its compact sedan Swift Dzire. The closest competitor to the car manages about one third of that figure. Does that mean the Dzire is three times better? No. Instead the car’s success relies heavily on the company’s brand value. The Dzire is no bad product, it’s a mix of good and bad bits, but absolute best, it is not. Maruti Suzuki’s wide sales and service network also helps in making the Dzire more successful.
In terms of competition, there are quite a few cars out there that can dethrone the Dzire. All other compact sedans are closely matched in terms of features and don’t really fail in any specific aspect. There’s the Ford Figo Aspire that appears to be the best package among the lot. Looking beyond the segment, the Toyota Etios is another popular choice. It doesn’t fall in the sub-4 metre segment, but is offered at similar prices, and is a better product in comparison.
Current market leaders: Maruti Ertiga and Toyota Innova
Worthy contender: Renault Lodgy
Two market leaders with almost exactly similar monthly sales figures isn’t something you would see in a market like ours. There’s a price barrier which sets the two products apart, but the difference between them and the others is so huge that it might make anyone believe the others aren’t as good. That’s certainly not the case. Toyota Innova is expensive but seems to work for ever, while the Ertiga has got both the brand value and price factor in its favour. Are they the best? No.
There’s the Honda Mobilio that can go up against the Ertiga, and stand neck to neck, if not beat it. Engine wise the 1.5-litre i-VTEC petrol engine is certainly stronger, while the space in the rear isn’t bad, either. Innova rules the segment, but the Lodgy isn’t too far behind in terms of space, comfort, and driveability.
Premium (D-segment) sedan
Current market leader: Toyota Corolla Altis
Toyota has a really good reputation in terms of longevity, and the Corolla is a good (if not the best example) for that. The brand value is so good that buyers overlook the other good products in the segment, which is a misery. Neither the best to drive nor the most powerful, the Corolla is in fact one of the slower ones around. It doesn’t have the best interior or the exterior. Good? Yes, it is mighty good, but best, it isn’t.
Through this article, we just tried to show that customers need to look beyond brand value (which most of you do) while making a buying decision. The segment leaders might not be the best, but they’ve justified their existence to customers in one way or the other, which is why they still top the charts. But they still aren’t the best, and sales figures alone cannot define how good or bad a product is.